Sheltered in the darkness of the night, in the early hours of 28 June 2009, hundreds of soldiers entered the presidential residence and captured José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, the legitimately elected president of Honduras. While still in his pyjamas, he was forcibly exiled to Costa Rica. A letter by Zelaya was issued, in which he resigned the presidency in order to avoid further bloodshed. The ousted president denied the letter was his.
Based on this falsification, the parliament behaved like a circus: it accepted the resignation of Zelaya and appointed Roberto Micheletti, of the Liberal Party and president of congress, as the new president of Honduras. It is common for the aggressor to pose as the victim to justify their actions, but there was no justification that legitimised the actions of the oligarchs, who behaved savagely. International condemnation was almost unanimous, the coup leaders imposed themselves without any internal or external legitimacy.
20 years ago, a revolutionary process began in Latin America in which we saw mass mobilisations, general strikes and insurrections. Given the impossibility of the workers’ seizing power, the process was expressed through the ballot box, which led to the favouring of presidents who, in one way or another, were to the left of their predecessors. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez declared that socialism was the way forward and sought a Latin American alliance.
Venezuela offered better business conditions for the diminutive Honduras than the USA. Mel Zelaya, who came from the bourgeois Liberal party, grouped around the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and began some reforms within Honduras, such as a wage increase, and attempted to make constitutional reforms by trying to convene a constituent assembly. The oligarchy used the state apparatus to oppose this body and declare it illegal. Zelaya called for a citizens’ consultation to ask if a fourth ballot box was to be put forward in the next elections, to ask the people if they agreed to a constituent assembly. Not even that minimum exercise of democratic participation of the people was accepted by the oligarchy, and they launched a coup d'état. In this period of capitalist decay, the bourgeoisie is not able to accept even the slightest reforms.
The government of Zelaya was a gateway for the political awakening of the masses, and the bourgeoisie wanted to put a stop to it. The coup, far from pacifying the ferment, became a blaze of anger that raised the masses up in a revolutionary struggle. Since 1954, Honduras has not seen a struggle of the working masses of this magnitude. When Mel Zelaya tried to return to the country, he was received by the largest mobilisation in the history of Honduras.
The coup d'état was a reactionary measure and its effects have been very negative. But just as Newton said – that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – in Honduras, the coup resulted in the discrediting of the National Party, the dismantling and loss of the support base of the Liberal Party (now an empty shell) and the formation of a mass organisation of the workers: the National Front of Popular Resistance.
The illegitimacy and weakness of the coup government has led them to hold three elections. The first was at the end of 2009, organised in such a manipulated way that the majority of the people abstained because they did not want to legitimise the regime. That's how Porfirio Lobo, Juan Orlando Hernández’s (JOH) predecessor, was imposed.
In the second elections, a change in the organisation of the Honduran people began. With the argument of creating a greater electoral alliance to confront the coup plotters, the Libre (Liberty and Refoundation) party was created, in which the National Front of Popular Resistance formed the base and many candidates were put up by the bourgeois Liberal party. In the end, the party oriented itself towards the elections, neglecting the mass organisation and the struggle on the streets. In those elections, the regime spent at least $250,000 to massively buy votes, and engaged in other, fraudulent actions.
JOH, the now-embattled president, changed the law to be able to run for re-election in 2017. The people had already demonstrated their willingness to fight, the torches movement in 2015 was a very significant example. But the university and workers’ strikes were another means of expressing the struggle of the people during those years. While the masses were more willing to fight for a change, Libre decided to make another alliance with the right, renouncing the candidacy and granting it to former sports commentator Salvador Nasralla.
The people went peacefully and voted en masse against JOH. The coup plotters committed a more-shameless fraud than ever before. The consequence was an insurrectional movement that even split the police forces, who at one point mutinied and refused to suppress the people. While the masses were fighting in the streets, Nasralla had illusions in the OAS (Organisation of American States) intervening in his favour. Imperialism and its international organisations preferred JOH to a government or new elections emerging from the revolutionary struggle of the masses. The only way out was to take the movement to the end, with actions such as the general strike and implementing organisational structures for the workers, such as popular assemblies. The significant thing is not that this fight was defeated by imposing JOH as president, but that the mass movement went so far despite lacking any leadership or direction during the struggle, since Libre was always lagging behind events.
Balance of the violence
One of the first visible effects of the coup was an increase in violence. In 2008, Honduras had a homicide rate of 56.6 in every 100,000 inhabitants. In 2011, it reached the figure of 86.47. Today, the SEPOL says that the rate of violence has dropped to 41.41 homicides, a figure that seems dubious.
The National Human Rights Commission (Conadeh) says that between 2014 and 2016 alone, 25 journalists were killed. An internationally famous case was the unsolved murder of social activist Berta Cáceres, which is not an isolated incident. The Committee of Relatives of Detainees and Missing Individuals in Honduras (Cofadeh) says that there have been 14 targeted murders and 13 missing individuals in the same period. Another series of activists have been killed in the midst of the general tide of violence, in cases that cannot be clearly identified as political.
Given its illegitimacy, the government has had to resort to the regular repression of protests. It is clear that the government has spent a huge amount of money on rubber bullets and gas to shoot at their people. The use of live ammunition against the demonstrations has also been reported. 10 years ago, a 19-year-old boy, Isy Obed Murillo Mencías, was the first to be murdered by the coup plotters. It was dramatic to see the image of the youth, carried by both arms, face up, bleeding, with his head crushed by a shot that went through his skull. These images, unfortunately, are increasingly common in Honduras. According to Cofadeh, in these 10 years, 136 protesters have been killed in demonstrations.
The level of violence has intensified, being practically the only support pillar that the current state has, since it has no legitimacy whatsoever. The case of the recent military raid on the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), where at least eight students were wounded, is a reminder of the current situation. On the 10th anniversary of the coup d'état, Honduras is militarised.
Poverty and migration
"According to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), people in poverty represent 68 percent of the population, that is, more than six million. Of that amount, 44 percent (3.9 million) live in extreme poverty. In addition, underemployment is at 56 percent, while 75 percent of wage earners receive less than needed for subsistence. This situation has led to a mass exodus." (telesurtv.net)
Migration skyrocketed after the electoral fraud of 2017 and the reimposition of JOH. In 2017, 48,022 Hondurans were deported from Mexico and the USA, but in 2018, the figure increased by 57 percent, reaching 75,279. That explains the increasing presence of migrant caravans that arose one after another. It also explains the popular discontent that has manifested itself in continuous protests.
The split in the police forces
In the protests of 2017, there were mutinies within the Cobras police force. As we explained at the time:
"The police and the army are repressive instruments in defence of the interests of big capital, but among their ranks are people who live in the same conditions of poverty as the rest of the workers and peasants, and their relatives are often fighting on the streets. The Cobras and other police forces refused in recent days to suppress the protests. In this new day of struggle, different police officers have renounced their associations. The policemen, whilst on the street, are infected by the revolutionary atmosphere of the people. The movement must organise self-defence committees, while agitating amongst the ranks of the armed forces to divide them. Mel Zelaya called on the armed forces to place themselves under the orders of the new president. Soldiers and policemen who refuse to suppress the people must form committees in their battalions, dismiss the repressive officers in assemblies and replace them with representatives under the control of the rank and file. The most reactionary elements of the police that continue the repression of the people must be isolated. Guns should be turned against the exploiters and their representative Juan Orlando Hernández."
For the protest of the police to be effective, and for a section of them to pass over to the side of the workers, it was necessary to take the aforementioned measures, but this did not happen. As a consequence, individual police were suppressed, the sections that most identified with the protest were isolated, they were locked up and indoctrinated again in the barracks, while other forces were used to suppress the protests. The central element is that the mass movement did not go on to the offensive to deepen the state crisis and show that it was truly fighting for power. In those days we wrote:
"The mass movement reached an insurrectional character at the national level and fractured the state's repressive forces. The final decision rested on the streets. It was completely possible to overthrow the regime of the coup plotters; but to do so, it was necessary to go on to the offensive. Time was not on the side of the movement. The mass struggle cannot be held permanently in a boiling state. If you do not have tangible conquests, sooner or later the mass struggle will descend. Capitalists can wait for the masses to get tired to regain control. That is why we pointed out the need to move forward with actions such as a genuine general strike, the taking of government buildings accompanied by the establishment of popular assemblies and the election of representatives who will coordinate the struggle regionally and nationally. The masses have given everything, but the leaders of Libre and the unions have not been able to channel this potential. A genuinely revolutionary party is like a piston that can concentrate all the steam power at one point, but without the piston the steam will tend to dissipate."
In the midst of the current protests, the police have begun to split again. As to be expected, a section of the people viewed this police protest with suspicion and some with hatred for the repressive role they have played. Even with this in mind, we think that what should have been done was to move towards splitting the police forces and attracting or neutralising the rank and file of the police. But again, the determining factor is that the mass movement, in those decisive moments, has not been able to go on the offensive. The limit is not the willingness of the masses but the inability of the leadership to take them any further.
Revolutionary mass actions
On 26 April, parliament imposed a privatisation reform on health and education that undermined many labour rights. That reactivated the social protests, with periods of ups and downs. The struggle of doctors and teachers has been taken up by the people as their own struggle. The Labour Day march on 1 May marked a turning point because it was a point of unity that encouraged the protests. There is a clear feeling that there can be no concessions under this government and that the struggle for demands cannot be solved without first overthrowing the dictatorship.
Street barricades block the avenues and streets, during the night, we have seen cacerolazos (people banging saucepans in protest). In the midst of this atmosphere, the truck drivers organised and carried out a strike that was putting the government in an economic predicament. This was seen as a call to go on the offensive, and in a semi-spontaneous way, the masses gave a small demonstration of their power on the night of 19 June. The stoppage of transport should have been the call for other sections to paralyse the economy, putting JOH regime on the verge of falling. This is the context in which the new protest and mutiny of the Cobras occurred. But in the end, an agreement was reached between the government and the truck drivers that made the actions of the general protest crumble; the police finally got their promises, and with that the struggle was ended.
On 21 June, JOH welcomed a group of US marines into Honduras. Following that, the streets were directly occupied by the military. This is a reflection of the government’s fear of the mass movement, and the lack of support it has within the working class. The government is sustained by brute force and the forces of imperialism.
The anniversary of the coup
The anniversary of the coup is taking place during a period when the coup government is at its weakest. Far from taking advantage of this date to push the struggle forward with a national day of protests, Libre convened a day of forums and commemorative and cultural activities. The dictatorship was not going to let up on this day and act more moderately: weakness invites aggression. There was a strong police mobilisation. Among the acts was one to remember the martyrs of the dictatorship by renaming a square Isy Obed Murillo, in honour of the first victim. But the armed forces of JOH occupied the square and prevented the renaming. At the end, there was a commemorative concert. There were protests in various places where people took to the streets, but it was not a mass action. Not seeing a serious plan of action, many people stayed in their homes or at work.
The situation in Honduras is delicate. There is fatigue and there is anger, the broad masses will fight, but only when they see that the actions will serve to advance towards the defeat of the coup government. The material conditions will make new sections join the struggle. Any mistake will result in a mass response. The situation is desperate, there have been lootings, possibly by agents provocateur, but there is a danger of more similar actions taking place in an isolated manner that will facilitate repression and will not help the unity of workers.
There are sections of the business class who are weighing up the cost of maintaining this government, although they fear the struggle of the masses more. The liberal tradition of some leaders of Libre can lead them to seek alliances with these sections of the bourgeoisie, but they just want to find the best way to continue exploiting the Honduran people and we must reject any alliance with them. We think that the best way to oust the dictator is with the struggle of the workers that, we repeat, must transcend actions like the stoppages that focus on taking of roads – we must directly paralyse national production.
The situation is one of great fragility and instability, where there will be greater turbulence still. We must prepare ourselves, and that is done by strengthening the organisation of the working people and building revolutionary cadres capable of defending a revolutionary programme and strategy within the mass movement. It is not only JOH, it is the oligarchic state. It is not only the coup plotters, the problem is the capitalist system itself. In the International Marxist Tendency, you can join the fight, with theory and practice, for the profound transformation of society.